Upper Rhine School, circa 1480
Upper Rhine School, circa 1480

A triptych: the central panel: The Virgin and Child with musical angels; the wings: the inner faces: Saint Catherine of Alexandria; Saint Barbara; the outer faces: The Annunciation

Upper Rhine School, circa 1480
A triptych: the central panel: The Virgin and Child with musical angels; the wings: the inner faces: Saint Catherine of Alexandria; Saint Barbara; the outer faces: The Annunciation
on gold ground panel, the wings in engaged frames
closed: 18 5/8 x 15 1/8 in. (47.4 x 38.5 cm.).; open: 18 5/8 x 30 ¾ in. (47.4 x 78 cm.); the central panel: 16 x 12 1/8 in. (40.2 x 30.6 cm.)
inscribed ‘Ave maria Gr’ (on the outer wing, on the Archangel Gabriel’s banderole)
J.P. Weyhe, Cologne.
Achillito Chiesa, Milan; his sale, part IV, American Art Association, New York, 23 November 1927 (=2nd day), lot 112, as 'School of Cologne'.
with Kleinberger, New York, 1928.
William Randolph Hearst (1863-1951), Hearst Castle, San Simeon, California.
Drey collection, until 1951.
with Paula de Koenigsberg, Buenos Aires, until 1961.
In the collection of the father of the present owner by 1961.
Art Objects & Furnishings from the William Randolph Hearst Collection: A Catalogue Raisonné comprising illustrations of representative works, New York, 1941, p. 26, no. 1247-4, central panel illustrated, as 'Master of the Holy Kinship'.
Listed in the William Randolph Hearst Archive (the original held at Long Island University, New York), XX, p. 13, as 'The Master of the Holy Kinship'.
New York, 1928.
Buenos Aires, Museo Municipal de Arte Hispano Americano, Exposición de obras maestras, siglos XII al XVII: colección Paula de Koenigsberg, May-July 1951, no. 16, as 'The Master of the Holy Kinship'.
Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum; Münster, Landesmuseum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, Sammlung Heinz Kisters: Altedeutsche une Altniederländische Gemälde, 25 June-17 November 1963, no. 57, as 'Tiroler Meister um 1480'.

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Imogen Jones
Imogen Jones

Lot Essay

This triptych, which was almost certainly designed for private devotion, can be compared both stylistically and in terms of its function with a small Hausaltärchen (House Altar), with a sculpted central figural group of Anna Selbdritt (Saint Anne holding the Virgin and Child), in the Cloisters Collection, New York (fig. 1). The Cloisters altar has been located to the Allgäu-Bodensee region in south-west Germany, an area extending roughly from Augsburg to Lake Constance, a region adjacent to the Upper Rhine. Elements in the present triptych, like the strongly drawn outlines of the saints’ crowns and the single highlights in their hair, are comparable with this work. The iconography of the Cloisters retable, which represents only female saints, has led scholars to suggest that it was commissioned by a woman. This may also be the case with the present triptych, although both Saints Catherine and Barbara were universally popular throughout Northern Europe during the fifteenth century. The present triptych was identified as the work of a Rheinish painter working around 1460 by Dr. Alfred Stange in 1960 (private communication with the owner) and later given to a Tyrolean painter working a couple of decades later by Ernst Buchner (private communication with the owner; and reiterated in the 1963 exhibition catalogue). The modelling of the Virgin’s head, in particular the broad nose and strongly defined shadows on the right side of the face, certainly recall figures like Christ in the Crowning with Thorns from the Colmar Altarpiece by Caspar Isenmann (1410–1472), an important representative of the Upper Rhine School during the later fifteenth century. The more robust figures of the saints in the wing panels, however, especially Saint Barbara, can also be related to the style of painting typically seen in more southern regions, like the area around Lake Constance, typified by the work of artists like Peter Murer (active 1446-1469).

Throughout the Middle Ages, Saint Barbara was invoked for her protection against sudden death. It was believed that through her intercession the devout would be saved from dying before they had received extreme unction. As this idea became increasingly prevalent, it brought about an interesting development in the saint’s iconography. From the later decades of the fifteenth-century onwards, in Germany especially, Saint Barbara began to be depicted holding the Eucharistic chalice and Host, a feature which in some cases superseded her more traditional attribute of a tower. Saint Catherine is depicted with her ubiquitous wheel and the sword of her martyrdom. Both saints wear crowns to reinforce their royal status. The design of the central Virgin and Child, which is closely modelled on an invention by Rogier van der Weyden, is a fascinating example of the far-reaching nature of artistic designs, pattern drawings and popular compositional elements during the fifteenth century. This practice was common in the Southern Netherlands but can here be seen to have extended east into Germany and beyond. Shown in a long white shirt, Christ is seated on the Virgin’s knee, with His proper right knee bent, leafing through the pages of his Mother’s prayer-book. This is a direct quotation from Rogier’s Duran Madonna of circa 1435-38 (fig. 2; Madrid, Museo Nacional del Prado), which, though the artist would most probably not have seen the original, he must have known what was evidently a highly successful design through circulated pattern drawings or later copies. The control and precision of the underdrawing in this section of the work, especially the carefully described folds of the virgin’s drapery, may indeed indicate that the painter was working from a pre-existing source (fig. 3).

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